United Methodist Neighborhood Centers were founded in 1894, dedicated to young mothers and their children who were among the 30,000 immigrant and poverty-level Blacks in the City of Nashville. Throughout the years three centers were formed and later combined to provide a variety of programs and services for the Nashville community.
The Wesley Community House, started by the City Mission Board in 1901, provided educational and recreational programs and services for the disadvantaged. Officials at Wesley House developed the J.C. Napier Center in 1956 to serve the African American community.
Centenary Center, formally known as the Warioto Settlement House and the Centenary Methodist Institute, was started by the young Methodist women from the Methodist Training School in 1908. It provided provided programs and activities for white, predominantly rural migrant workers from North Nashville with programs that taught domestic skills such as cooking, sewing, disease prevention, and the newest childcare techniques.
In 1907, Sallie Hill Sawyer, laid the groundwork to open the Bethlehem Center. An African American graduate of Fisk University, former teacher and member of Capers Memorial Colored Methodist Church urged the women of the Methodist Training School in Nashville to extend their services to aid impoverished African Americans. She and Estelle Haskins of the Missionary Training School started a kindergarten, well-baby clinic, sewing circle, and recreation program for the community in the basement of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in 1913.
One year later, with funds from the Tennessee Conference Woman’s Missionary Society, a building for Bethlehem Center was built at Tenth and Cedar streets. The next year, the center moved to Eighth and Cedar Streets and later became the headquarters for all “colored workers” of the Red Cross during the First World War.
The center was moved to its present location at 1417 Charlotte Avenue in 1923. In 1929, forty-three acres of land in Cheatham County were purchased and donated to the center. Camp Dogwood was built on that land and served as the first place in Middle Tennessee for African American youngsters to attend camp.
Now Wesley House, Centenary Center, and Bethlehem Center are one multi-service agency known as Bethlehem Centers of Nashville (BCN) with facilities in both North and downtown Nashville. Bethlehem Centers is governed by a Board of Directors whose members are community and business leaders, and has expanded its mission to reach all poverty-restricted persons living in North Nashville.